Another new markdown contender: Highland 2

Highland 2 was released recently. It is upgraded from a screenplay-only composer, to an authoring tool for many kinds of documents.

The new release of Highland 2 from Quote-Unquote Apps is a full-fledged app for creating writing projects of all kinds. If I understand the history correctly, version one of Highland was specifically for writing screenplays and used Fountain, a markup syntax for just that purpose. But the developers have turned version two into a writing tool for all types of projects.

Here’s what they have to say:

We’ve taken the tools we built for writing screenplays and made them work for almost every kind of document you write. From novels to blog posts and school reports, Highland’s clean design and innovative tools help you focus on words, not formatting.

They have added markdown syntax for formatting text. It seems pretty standard to me, which is to say that it is familiar and easy to use. You can open a cheat sheet for markdown or Fountain from the Help menu. The little window stays on top for you to reference while writing.

Highland fits into the mold of what I’m now thinking of as markdown word processors. That is, it is intended for working on one-off documents, but is not a notebook for your notes. For one thing, it does not have a list of documents in a sidebar. For another it has no universal search — only a Find for the current document.

So let’s take a look at what Highland does have.

Preview mode.

The environment

At first blush, Highland looks like many other editors, with the editing window on the right and a reference panel on the left. Often the left panel is a place for locating various documents, but Highland is meant for you to work on one document/project at a time, so what you see in the left panel is meant to analyze and support the project you’re working on. You can select from five different types of view in this sidebar:

Navigator: Which shows an outline of your work based on the headings and other features we’ll get into a little later. A filter allows you to select various elements to view or not in the outline.

Bin: A place to store snippets of text. Drag a paragraph to the bin, then drag it out where you want to relocate it. Have a brilliant phrase for your work, but don’t know where it goes yet? Put it in the bin until you know the perfect place for it. One small drawback is that you can’t compose writing in the Bin. You have to drag it in from the editor. Not a big deal really.

Statistics: Tells you a bunch of different measurements about your document and allows you to set a goal in words or pages.

Assets: Shows you any items you’ve imported into the document.

Scratchpad: Where you can add notes about the document.

In the upper right part of the screen you will find the “sprint” button to set a timed writing session.

Next to the sprint button are menus for adjusting the theme for editing and the theme for exporting. They could have some more varied and creative options for the export themes.

In the upper left corner of the editor you will find buttons to select editing mode or preview mode, to view what your work will look like when exported.

Most functions have keyboard shortcuts as well as menu or button activation. For example command-E toggles between editing and preview modes.

All in all, the interface is handsome and well designed and includes typewriter mode.

The statistics panel in the sidebar lets you set writing goals, and provides some basic data about your document.

Note to self

Highland has handy ways of making notes to yourself about your project in addition to the scratchpad mentioned above.

[[Enclosing your text in double brackets allows you to create inline notes for yourself that do not print, export or appear in the preview.]]

= Adding an equal sign to the start of a sentence creates another kind of inline note. They suggest it is useful for adding a synopsis to your writing. By default these synopsis notes do not appear when previewing or printing, but there is an option to include them.

Inline notes and context notes will be displayed in the navigator panel, although you can uncheck the option of showing either of them.

One type of note that is missing from Highland is footnotes or endnotes, so Highland won’t be a good choice for academic writing or some non-fiction, unless you’re just doing a draft and importing into a word processor like Mellel.

Missing functionality

There are a few things missing from Highland 2:

  • There is no iOS app.
  • There appears to be no option for synchronizing your project between MacOS devices.
  • There are several export options, but no option for either Docx or HTML files.

One other feature that would be really nice is a file browser view in the sidebar. This way, if you were working on a multi-chapter project, you could keep all the documents in a folder then have quick access to them in the file browser. This would also enhance another nice feature already built into Highland 2, the ability to “include” other documents in your current document on export. With the file browser, they could make it so you just had to drag the file name from the browser into the open document to create the “include” link.

The Verdict

Highland 2 compares well to other markdown “word processors”:

  • ByWord
  • Versatil Markdown
  • LightPaper

It isn’t a substitute for Evernote or Bear for managing notes. But for composing longer documents, it might prove to be the best option — as long as you don’t need a companion iOS app.

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